Helsinki (09.10.2001 - Heikki Piskonen) Estonia declared national independence ten years ago, after this was made possible by the break-up of the Soviet Union. The country then effected a complete U-turn in its economy. The old planned economy was directly replaced with an ultraliberal market system.
The role of society in the economy is restricted and State property has been privatised despite occasional tragicomic features. This sharp-edged market economy ideology has also resulted in a shortage of tax revenues necessary to finance social services. Part of wages and salaries are paid in secret. Any regular visitor to Tallinn, the nation's capital, can testify to growing visible social inequality. Wealth from successful businesses has not trickled down to the poor.
For the trade union movement the past ten years has been a reconstruction period. A complete restart was necessary in many practical aspects of trade union work. The reputation of the movement as the defender of employee interests had been lost during the communist era when the movement was identified with the governing political party.
Some positive results have nevertheless been achieved. In the engineering and electronics industries employees have a common national trade union that has signed a framework agreement with the employers' association. There is fledgling organised labour market activity. The Finnish Metalworkers Union has supported the birth of a new trade union movement in Estonia.
Finnish engineering and electronics industry enterprises employ about 6,000 local workers in Estonia. The largest employer is Elcoteq – a business currently struggling with problems of its own. One worrying - indeed frightening - fact is that, according to the Estonian Metalworkers Union, in none of the Finnish engineering and electronics enterprises is there a collective agreement.
It might be asked what prevents Finnish enterprises from promoting organised collective bargaining in Estonia. Does this tell us something fundamental about the nature of Finnish capitalism?
* Originally published in Ahjo (16-2001), the Metalworkers Union magazine. The writer is the magazine's Editor-in-Chief.